The objective of The Department of Corrections is to help keep our community safe and to achieve this we have a goal of reducing re-offending by 25%.
The Department of Corrections was formed in October 1995, when the Department of Justice was separated in two. Management of prisoners, parolees and offenders on probation became the responsibility of the new Department of Corrections, while the Ministry of Justice was responsible for the administration of the court system and fines collection.
While the Department itself is less than 20 years old, the history of corrections services in New Zealand goes back to the early days of colonial settlement.
The Department of Corrections was founded on principles of rehabilitation and public safety, and while we have grown in size and seen a number of changes over the intervening years, these principles remain at the core of what we do.
In 1995 Corrections employed 3,500 staff. Today we employ 7,500 staff located in over 130 sites across the country. On any given day 44,000 individuals are under Corrections’ management. For every person serving a prison sentence in New Zealand there are approximately five serving a community sentence or order.
Although trends suggest that offender volumes have now stabilised, there was a 70% increase in the prison population between 1997 and 2011. The growth was due to an increase in the actual number of people being sentenced to imprisonment as well as an increase in the average period they served.
Corrections responded by increasing capacity in a variety of ways; double-bunking was introduced, container units were modified into cells and five new prisons were built - Northern Region Corrections Facility, Spring Hill Corrections Facility, Auckland Women's Corrections Facility, Otago Corrections Facility and Mt Eden Corrections Facility (built as a public private partnership and managed under contract by Serco).
Community probation also implemented significant changes to meet the demands of increased volumes and manage offenders more effectively. In 2003 Corrections managed 37,986 new sentences and orders. By the end of 2009 new starts had nearly doubled to 66,635.
A three year change programme (2009-2012) redesigned probation practice. Probation Officers now use an integrated practice framework, which specifies a set of mandatory standards that must be followed, but can use their professional judgement to make informed decisions about individual offenders.
In the early 2000s, Corrections implemented a number of major treatment programmes and established care units. Corrections has responded to the growth of drug use and abuse with strategies targeted at reducing their use and potential for harm. Drug Treatment Units and treatment programmes have been established and random drug-testing is undertaken. We also have drug dog teams on site at prisons looking for contraband.
Forty percent of the offender population identify as Maori, so supporting Maori offenders to lead a crime-free life is a strong focus at Corrections. As well as engaging closely with iwi to find local and specific solutions for Maori offenders, Corrections runs tikanga programmes and has five Maori Focus Units and two Whare Oranga Ake units (reintegration units outside the wire). Similar programmes and units are available for Pacific people.
Mothers with Babies Facilities were opened in 2011 to give mothers in prison a chance to bond with their babies in a safe and supportive environment. The units are located at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, Arohata Prison and Christchurch Women’s Prison.
Case management was introduced in 2011. Each sentenced prisoner is allocated a case manager who manages their offender plan from the start of their custodial sentence to the end.
All New Zealand prisons became smokefree in 2011. With around 20,000 prisoners going through the prison system every year and around 8,500 people in prison at any one time, smokefree prisons means a significant number of people must give up tobacco and this increases their chances of remaining smokefree after release. It has also instantly provided for a significantly healthier work and living environment for all staff, visitors to prisons, and prisoners.
In March 2012, the Corrections Minister announced that a new prison was to be built as a public private partnership in Wiri. As well as allowing prisoners from the Auckland area to be located closer to their community, the new prison will alleviate the previous strain on capacity. This meant older prisons deemed no longer suitable, such as Wellington and New Plymouth Prison, could be closed, as could older units at Arohata, Rolleston, Tongariro/Rangipo and Waikeria prisons.
Chief Executive Ray Smith and the Executive Leadership Team are leading the transformation of Corrections to ensure Corrections achieves this goal. As Ray puts it, “The bottom line is public safety but the ultimate goal is about turning lives around and creating change for the long run."